Jamaica Debates Commission calls for fixed election dates

Jamaica Debates Commission calls for fixed election dates

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

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NOEL daCosta, chairman of the Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC), is adding to the discourse in favour of fixed election dates in the country, noting that the level of uncertainty generated around when an election will be announced is bad for business.

Speaking at yesterday’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters in St Andrew ahead of next week’s debates between the two main political parties, daCosta said that this has been the shortest period of time the commission has had to prepare for national debates and, as a result, it has affected its fund-raising activities.

He said the debates came into play sooner than they had anticipated.

“The debates commission is always at a disadvantage, because when the prime minister calls the election there is some 24 or 26 days before an election, and within that period we have to stage debates. To put on three debates, they take up a week, so the time frame that we have to work with… it’s always rushed. It’s always last minute. If we had fixed election dates that would be sorted,” he told editors and reporters, adding that there are many other predictable advantages around fixed election dates.

DaCosta told the Observer that, without fixed election dates, businesses are unable to plan effectively and often encounter sudden disruptions to their activities.

He argued that “many other Commonwealth countries” have moved away from the uncertainty and have legislated fixed election dates because it allows for better planning.

There have been renewed calls for meaningful electoral reforms that would include fixed election dates, term limits for politicians, and strict rules for campaign financing.

The issue resurfaced again within recent weeks before Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the September 3 General Election date.

Holness himself, in the run-up to the February 2016 General Election, promised to address the issue many believe would prevent a prime minister from manipulating events to seize the momentum, gain an advantage, among other things.

JDC vice-chairman in charge of sponsorship, communications and social media Brian Schmidt endorsed daCosta’s argument, noting that both entertainment and media businesses have been negatively impacted by the speculation that accompanies election dates.

“It’s simply because you can’t plan,” Schmidt stated.

He said businesses have, in the past, lost millions of dollars because of clashes that emerged due to an announced date.

“There are companies that were having events on a weekend that an election was called and all permissions for public gatherings were withdrawn. I know one promoter who I will not name, [who] lost $25 million. I know another one who lost $5 million. I know another one who lost $10 million on that weekend.

“That’s simply because you’ve already invested everything. You’ve done all your advertising. You’ve done all your promotion. You’ve done all your set-up. You’ve paid artistes. You’ve done this; you’ve done that. Somebody calls an election and everything is lost because you can’t recover it. You just can’t recover that money that has been spent and, at that point, two days before you’re having your event, that money is dead,” Schmidt, a businessman, said.

While admitting that there are a few businesses that benefit from the uncertainty, he said, by and large, most of them contract.

“Clients put off making advertising decisions. You just need to hear that there may be an election and advertising decisions die,” he said.

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